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The Inheritance by Joanna Goodman

From the bestselling author of The Home for Unwanted Girls and The Forgotten Daughter comes a mother-daughter story in which two women who share a difficult past must come to together to claim the life they deserve.

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Virginia Bunt is flat on her back, her lower body unnaturally twisted on the hardwood, no feeling below her shins. The sheet is wet and sticky underneath her thighs, the duvet tangled around her feet, all of it having come off the bed with her. She can’t move. She has no idea how long she’s been here. A day? Two days?

Spectacular pain is exploding up and down her left side from her knee to her groin. Her left leg is turned awkwardly, the inner thigh pushed out. The entire leg is deeply bruised, mottled dark purple. The room is quiet; she’s alone. She usually doesn’t like to be left alone - not by men - but this is different, her perspective having been stunningly altered by the circumstances. She thinks about her girls, though not with the usual crushing remorse or operatic shrieks of guilt in her head. She’s failed them utterly and completely, she knows that; but now it just seems so irrelevant. None of it matters anymore - not the kind of mother she’s been, nor the women they’ve become – especially Arden, who is so much like her. Tate always manages to land on her feet, but Arden can be so helpless. She worries about Arden - her passivity and co-dependence, traits Virginia has certainly passed down to her youngest daughter.

Even if Virginia lives, she’s already lost the battle. There’s a certain overriding clarity to it all though. This was always going to be her destiny, she sees that now. Not just the violent battering of her body and ego, but the epic humiliation at the hands of a man; the complete aloneness of this moment. You know you want it, you old bitch.

She can just imagine how the girls will react to this, her grandest fuck-up yet.

Let it go, Virginia. Let go of what they think. Maybe she won’t tell them. Maybe she’ll die here like this. Wouldn’t that be poetic? Dying while still waiting for her life to start.

She can hear the subway rumble outside her window and it’s comforting to know that life is going on out there, people are going places, getting on with things. Life is expanding and while she may not be part of it, the sound of the train makes her feel like she’s not alone on the planet.

As she floats in and out of consciousness, she remembers as a little girl, waking up one night from a bad dream and calling out for her mother. She must have been about five or six. She couldn’t remember what the dream was about, but her heart was beating very fast. Her eyelet curtains were pulled open and the tree branches outside her window looked scarier than usual. She slid her feet out of bed, grabbed her doll, Constance, and hurried out of her room. She was wearing baby-doll pajamas with a scalloped hem, and she felt cold. There were goose bumps up and down her arms and legs, but she wasn’t sure if they were from the cold or from being scared.

She padded down the hall to her parents’ room, knowing her mother would let her sleep in their bed. Not between them – her father didn’t like Virginia in the bed, said it disrupted his sleep - but on her mother’s side, curled in a fetal position with her mother’s heart beating against her back.

She had one hand on the doorknob – she was holding Constance’s hair with the other - and was about to open the door when she heard them arguing.

“You could at least acknowledge her sometimes,” her mother was saying.

“I do acknowledge her.”

“Oh, Howarth. You barely do. You ignore her most of the time. Can’t you at least engage her every now and then? Ask her something about school or watch her do her goddamn hula hoop for five minutes?”

Her father was an professor of English at York University. He didn’t have time for Virginia’s silly games or her constant ‘jibber-jabbering.’ He would always tell her to go and read a book instead. She hated reading, which bothered him. “How did I wind up with a child who doesn’t read?” He was often disgusted with her.

Virginia pressed her ear closer to the door.

“She looks up to you, Howarth,” her mother said. “So maybe she’s not going to be an intellectual, so what? She’s only a child, for God’s sake.”

There was a long silence.

“What am I supposed to do with a pretty moron?” he said at last, sounding genuinely perplexed.  “She’s useless.”

Or maybe he’d said, “It’s useless.”

Virginia could never be sure. She went back to her room, absorbing what she’d heard. She turned on the bedside lamp and crawled under the covers with Constance. Even then, she knew her father’s opinion was the one that mattered most, the only one that counted, really. His words would always shape how she felt about herself and who she became in the world.

Pretty, useless moron.

Lying here now, splayed out on the floor, she wonders about the careless things her girls might have overheard her say about them over the years. Might they have caused a kind of internal damage to which she was completely oblivious?

More than likely, she acknowledges, picturing their beautiful, wounded faces as she finally loses consciousness.

Excerpt from The Inheritance, Copyright © 2024 by Joanna Goodman. All rights reserved.

The Inheritance will be available in bookstores across Canada and online on March 12, 2024

Enter for your chance to win a copy of
The Inheritance by Joanna Goodman

Enter for your chance to win a copy of The Inheritance by Joanna Goodman